Baby foods are known to be laden with unnecessary sugar and salts that act as preservatives and make the meal palatable for a newborn. Moreover, these products can also have toxic side effects that affect the health of the baby.
Jyothi Sri Pappu from Malikipuram in Andhra Pradesh was well aware of this when her son Jai was born in 2012. “I am a pharmacist and can recognise the toxicity of ingredients and their effects by reading the contents of the product. I did not want to feed this food to my child,” she tells The Better India.
To find a safer alternative, she reached out to her mother and grandmother, seeking natural and healthier options for her newborn.
“I moved from Vijayawada, an urban city, to Malikipuram, a village where life is slow and surrounded by nature. The environment around inspired me to look for chemical-free and natural methods to prepare baby food,” she says.
Taking traditional knowledge from her elders, Jyothi started making healthy mixes from uggu (sprouted ragi), dry fruits, lentils and red rice. “The ingredients were available from local farmers. Additionally, they were all grown through Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) methods using natural farming techniques and with no chemicals,” she adds.
She says that living in a rural area also presented her with the opportunity to use pestle and mortar. “Using an electric grinder heats the food in the process and results in the loss of nutrients. But the natural hand pounding method retains them and offers better taste,” Jyothi explains, adding that using such methods, she started making multiple recipes for her child.
The recipes and natural food soon became popular among her friends, which motivated her to launch a startup, Nutreat, offering 100 products with over 7,000 recipes customised for her clients. Today, her business earns Rs 1.5-2 lakh per month.
Handmade with love
“By 2016, the recipes had become very popular among my friends. They requested multiple combinations and I had churned out around 2,000 recipes by then. In 2017, I decided to create the brand and start selling these recipes commercially,” says the 30-year-old.
Jyothi adds that she clocked 5,000 customers in the initial six months of starting the business and that this number has since grown to over 12,000. “Majority of the customers have come from word of mouth, seeking customised recipes,” she says.
To meet business demands, she roped in a few women from the village, offering them an opportunity to earn money. “Apart from those working full time to help us prepare and pack the food, the women have no fixed shifts. They can work from home by carrying certain kilos of millets and lentils to stone grind them. They can grind 25 to100 kilos of ingredients in a day or a week, depending on how soon they finish the task alongside managing household chores. They earn Rs 1,500 per batch,” she explains.
Jyothi says the ingredients are sun-dried to increase their shelf-life. “After this, we convert them to flour with pestle and mortar, stone grinders or other manual equipment. Some of the ingredients are roasted in clay pots, which enhances their flavour,” she adds.
She adds that of the total 40 women working with her, 13 are working full-time to ensure the orders are kept ready. “The orders are prepared only after confirmation. The type of orders we receive helps prepare the raw material and batches accordingly and keeps the food fresh. Sometimes they are customised, and pre-preparation does not serve the purpose in such cases,” she adds.
Jyothi says her day begins at 5.30 am. “The women start coming around 8-8.30 am, and we start the work to process the orders. The work is finished by 2 pm, and everyone is free to make the most of their remaining day or spend time with their children,” she says.
Laxmi Divya, a local, says, “My husband passed away a while ago, making me the only earning member in the family. I learned about Jyothi’s business through a friend and have been working with her since 2018.”
Laxmi says this is her second job alongside a seed plantation company. “Here, I earn Rs 5,000 a month, which has helped increase my total income and meet my living expenses, alongside the cost of education and other such needs for my children,” she says.
‘A healthier generation will create a healthier future’
However, like any other business, Jyothi saw many hurdles along the way. She says that while the geographic location of Malikipuram offered the best natural ingredients and assured quality, the distance and shortage of infrastructure created challenges. “Unlike metro cities where all raw materials for packaging and marketing are conveniently available, the same became difficult to access from the village,” she says.
She says that as all the entire process of preparation is natural, it takes weeks to prepare an order. “The rainy season or days of bad weather make the process of sun-drying slow. This affects the rest of the process,” she adds.
“There were no courier services when I started the business, and speed post was the only means to deliver orders. However, as the demand increased, other courier operators started delivering. The connectivity and logistics have improved,” she notes.
Jyothi has diversified to introduce healthy food for women such as muesli, porridge, pancake mix, breakfast and premix drinks. She says baby porridge, choco ragi pancake mix, millet muesli are the most bought products.
The entrepreneur says that her products also gained online visibility on platforms including Amazon and Flipkart. “I deliver products across India, as well as in countries such as Scotland, USA and Australia,” she says, adding that the increase in clientele helps her earn Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 as profits.
Bhargavi S, a homemaker from Hyderabad, has been a customer of Nutreat since 2019. “I learned about baby food in an article. It is hard to find natural and healthy food products for newborns. I liked the concept of raw materials coming from farmers, food made by hand pounding and also the initiative of empowering women,” she says.
Bhargavi adds that her child has no complaints about gases or digestions, common among babies consuming market food products. “I do not worry if my child skips a meal at times as I am sure that he is going to consume a healthy meal with all-natural nutrients whenever he feels hungry,” she adds.
Jyothi says that eating local food is the best gift to offer the next generation. “It offers a healthy life and environment, in terms of ecological sustainability. A healthier generation will create a healthier future,” she adds.
To order products from Nutreat, contact 9848604589.
Edited by Divya Sethu